Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on Homeschooling

Ok, don't get too excited: I don't have time for deep reflections right now.  I'm not even sure I can arrange what I'm thinking into a nice, tidy, cohesive format.  But here goes...

Today is one of those rare, pleasant, languid, lazy August days.  The air is dry and relatively cool, the sun is shining and none of us has much to do.  It's the perfect day to sit outside and soak up some nature.  This almost never happens in South Jersey in August.

Today, we were all excited to see what looked like a monarch butterfly flitting around the hydrangea bush just outside the kitchen door and windows.  It seems we have inadvertently created quite a playground for butterflies.  The hydrangeas that just won't quit are always loaded with insects of every kind, particularly butterflies, bees and ants.  And their position near the room we use most provides us with ample opportunity to at least casually observe their visitors' behavior.  Over the years we've watched praying mantises, stick bugs, cicadas, and spiders, in addition to the bees and butterflies.

This is another plant that butterflies and bees seems to love.  We have no idea what it is.  Several years ago, The Viking sprinkled a packet of mixed wildflower seeds in a bare patch near the powder room window and promptly forgot about them.  A year later, this sprang up.  And continues to spring up each year.  We don't really know if it's from the wildflower packet or the work of a helpful bird, but it's like butterflynip--they go bananas over it!  And, it seems, that while they're in the neighborhood, they usually swing on by the hydrangeas in the front.

Redheaded Snippet took these.  She liked this one because of the big bee.  Which is kind of leading me to my point.  We have always encouraged our kids to find beauty and delight wherever it may be found.  If we stumble across something interesting while on a walk or drive, or even during our every day tasks (like the GIANT spider we found while trying to retrieve the mail), we stop what we're doing and make the kids come and look at it.  We tell them what we know or ask questions about what we don't.  We've always encouraged them to look up the answers or to try to arrive at the answers themselves by observing for a while.

Another shot of the unknown plant.  I asked Redheaded Snippet to be sure to get lots of photos of its flowers, leaves and any buds, seeds or pods present to try to determine what it is.  We don't know yet--distractions still happen, after all--but we'll get there.  Anyway, it wasn't until last year, when I was doing some research in preparation for our second year of homeschooling that I discovered that this way of living, learning and teaching is actually an established method of homeschooling.  And it was then that I stopped trying to arrange my approach to teaching my son around whatever method or curriculum was most popular and allowed myself to just do what I knew and what came most naturally.

I refer, of course, to the Charlotte Mason approach or philosophy.  Unbeknownst to me, my sisters and I had all been brought up this way.  Sure, we all went through public schools from kindergarten to college, but at home, we were taught the Charlotte Mason way and simply never knew it.  Mom didn't even know it.  To her, it was just common sense and the way all kids used to be taught.  But she did a wonderful thing for us, something I have been able to pass on to my kids and something I've been able to embrace in teaching Calvin.

And while my kids and I have always been encouraged to observe and inquire, it is because of homeschooling that Calvin took one look at this butterfly and said, "I think that's a monarch!"  We studied insects this year and did a lesson on the differences between the monarch butterfly and it's clever mimic, the viceroy.  Most people are actually looking at a viceroy when they think they've spotted a monarch.  But Calvin was able to remember what he had learned and pointed out to me the distinct round spots on the wings and the absence of an additional black line along the back wings.

And while he ran upstairs to dig out his good ole Handbook of Nature Study, Redheaded Snippet made her way out to the porch with the camera.  All of these shots are hers, didn't she do a nice job?  She has a funny way with butterflies and moths, too.  Ever since she was old enough to focus on them, she's always seemed to attract them.  Everywhere she goes, they fly to her and are happy to sit right in her hands or on an outstretched finger.  We call her the Moth Whisperer.  And this beautiful female monarch, for we were able to determine it is so, was perfectly content to let Redheaded Snippet get nice and close and snap away.  And while she declined to climb aboard, she did put her front legs on Snippet's finger and lapped inquisitively at it with her long, coiled tongue.

You may say it's just a butterfly and the desperation of a few bored kids with nothing else to do on a late summer's day.  But if you'd seen how engrossed they were in the markings, behavior and flight patterns of this pretty little lady, and then in the choice of the best photos of her afterward, I think you'd think differently.  When was the last time you saw a 17-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother more interested in a butterfly on a summer's day than in texting, video games or tv shows?  And maybe I'm just eager to read more into it than there is, but I really do believe I owe a lot of it to the environment that homeschooling creates.

Whatever it is, it made my day, my week, and quite possibly, my summer.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

I've found myself with a pocket of time so I've decided to pop in an dump a bunch of photos I don't want to forget about. This is more for me than it is for you.

And, yes, I know it's PHFR Thursday but I just don't have time for clever sorting and formatting. I'm sure Pretty, Happy, Funny and Real are in here, but we'll all just have to read between the lines to find them.

I begin with a bit of catching up:

You can't really tell, but he's lying somewhat on my lap in the above shot.  I asked if I could take his picture so he provided Joey as a substitute.  He was rather miserable as he came home from camp with an outer ear infection, also known as swimmers' ear.  Apparently, the campers are supposed to go straight to the nurse for ear drops immediately after splashing around in the creek and, apparently, Calvin skipped it just once.  And that was enough.

It was like having a toddler in the house once again: sleepless nights brought on by cries of pain and leading to miserable crankiness on the parts of both patient and nurse the following days, coaxing and threatening in order to apply ear drops, it was no fun for anyone...

Good thing he's darn cute.

And then the skies and the infection cleared and friends invited us to spend a few days with them in LBI (Long Beach Island for you out-of-staters).

We splashed, swam and kayaked in the bay in impending rain that never materialized (ok, so the skies didn't clear for long).

We played on the beach in the actual rain and sand-blowing wind.

We engaged in shenanigans at the amusements.

See?  Shenanigans.

More shenanigans.

I don't know what this is, but I wish there was some way to parlay it into a college education...

And then we came home and things got hairy.  So I took some very good advice and focused my efforts on meals and laundry.  Thus, there are going to be lots of photos of food.  Ye be warned.

The above was a simple summer meal made possible by my favorite produce stand.  I may not grow it myself, but I do live in the Garden State where the best fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and peaches are available right down the road (the peaches are under the meringue)!

Next thing we knew, Dad was having surgery and everything seemed to go a little haywire.

That's Mom, sitting under a tree at the Walt Whitman bridge toll plaza just over the river in Philly on one of the hottest days of the year.  I'm next to her, taking a picture of her watching traffic while on her cell phone.  Why were we doing this, you ask?

Well, there's Mom's car,  poor Fraulein (we like to name our cars), broken down on the side of the toll plaza.  And save your thoughts of, "Oh, dear, that IS a shame," for you haven't heard the whole of it yet.  We broke down ON the bridge!  We were on our way back to the hospital in Philly when a belt snapped and flung itself through several important parts in the car's engine.  Complete and total engine failure.

After 30 minutes that seemed like 30 years of sitting in the right lane and praying we wouldn't get creamed by one of the many trucks thundering past us, we were rescued by a very kind policeman who used his cruiser to literally push us across the bridge.  Another cruiser drove in front, both had their lights flashing, and Mom said she felt like a criminal with a police escort.  I think it kind of made her day (well, that, and getting nuzzled by a mounted police officer's horse later that evening but that's a whole nuther story).

And then the tow truck arrived followed shortly by The Viking, our Knight In Battered Volvo pictured above. We managed to get to the hospital safely, The Viking made sure Fraulein got to her hospital safely, Dad was fine and all was well that ended well.

Since then, Calvin made my summer when I came down one morning to find this:

The TV and Wii were functional, the computer was free and no one had bribed him in any way.  He was just completely engrossed in a book for the first time in his life!  I have been trying very hard, especially in the past two years of homeschooling, to encourage a love of reading in this boy but he has, up until this point, doggedly resisted my efforts.  And now, out of nowhere, he has picked up this book and become enthralled.  I suspect it may have to do with some kind of gain in maturity or something because after this he cleaned out the shed and then went for a swim, exactly what The Viking has been trying to get him to do all summer.

Finally, in my efforts to be the very best I can be in the laundry and meals departments, I declared this week to be Corn Week.  I did something similar about 18 months ago when I suddenly declared a Soup Week and made soup.  All week.  It was fabulous and, hey, I need to do that again this winter.

But this week, it's been corn.  I cannot tell you what prompted this event.  I simply decided that I wanted to make a lot of corn.  Actually, now that I think about it, it may have been the chicken tortilla soup and Cobb salad I enjoyed at Bridget Foy's on South Street last week.  Both dishes had fresh, sweet corn in them.  And I could go on about the salted caramel budino I had for dessert but I have a feeling that will pop up again in a post around Thanksgiving...

ANYWAY...Corn Week:

I bought a dozen-and-a-half ears of corn at the produce stand on Sunday.  So that night we had straight up corn on the cob with burgers and various salads.  I did not get a photo.  We were munching on corn.  I packed the leftovers away for future use.

Monday, I made what is supposed to be Tequila Lime Chicken but as I did not have tequila, I used rum.  Now, in my mind, Rum Lime Chicken does not have the same ring to it but that's what it was.  I used leftover corn to make my favorite summertime side dish: corn, avocado and tomato salad, also known in this house, for reasons I no longer remember, as Sexy Salad.  I also made cilantro-lime-ranch dressing for the salad.

Tuesday: my attempt to recreate Bridget Foy's Cobb salad using leftover Rum Lime Chicken, the cilantro-lime-ranch dressing and homemade corn salsa.  The Viking, while enjoying his dinner, cried foul because it is his belief that the corn salsa and Sexy Salad are too similar.   WHAT DOES HE KNOW?

HE CAN'T EVEN OPEN A BOTTLE OF WINE PROPERLY!  Ok, I realize this wasn't his fault, get off me!  Do you see what happened there?  He was opening the bottle for dinner when the top of the cork screw just broke right off!  We have the worst luck with cork screws.  I fear we're going to have to buy an expensive one.

Dinner was delayed a little because, as you may notice from the photos, the opening of this bottle required work tools and a complete change of clothes.  I guess they're "work" clothes?  Because he had to use tools?  You missed the cordless drill he tried to use on it; luckily its battery was dead.

But he got that bottle open, and, no, he didn't cork it.

So last night's (Wednesday's) dinner: marinated, grilled London Broil with Corn Fritters and the last of the cilantro-lime-ranch dressing for dipping.  We also had salad but it didn't make it into the photo.  I have discovered that I may in fact eat anything if it has the combined flavors of lime and cilantro in or on it.  I am crazy for this combination.  Add corn and I'm in heaven.

There's only one selection left: tonight's entry of Corn Chowder.  I've bought some slightly expensive Rosemary bread to dip into it that I've squirreled away in a top cupboard.  And that will be the end of the corn and Corn Week.  I had really wanted to do a corn pudding or corn souffle, but I thought that might be getting carried away.  And I'm not sure how much more my family would tolerate.  They think I'm a little off center as it is.

Anyway, that's the very latest that I can share.  There is loads more going on, but those things can't be shared until there are a few more developments.  It just wouldn't be fair and I just couldn't do that to you.

Until we meet again...